(posted June 13, 2:20 p.m.)- Voting along strict party lines, Sandinista lawmakers have unilaterally passed into law a presidentially endorsed concession that gives unknown Chinese firm HKND-Group a 50-year contract to “design, develop, engineer, finance, construct, possess, operate, maintain and administer” the Great Nicaragua Canal megaproject.
After a heated—and, at times, racist—debate that included the interventions of 33 lawmakers, including most of the opposition, the canal concession was approved at 1:30 p.m. by a vote of 61 in favor and 25 against.
The new canal concession, which was presented to National Assembly less than a week ago by President Daniel Ortega, was given only a perfunctory consultation by Sandinista lawmakers, who met with the major business chambers to hear their concerns, but apparently didn’t include any of them in the final law. Environmental groups and indigenous communities that have voiced concerns about the project’s ecological impact and expropriations of tribal lands were not invited to participate in the National Assembly’s consultation process.
As civil society groups protested the canal law in the street outside the National Assembly, lawmakers argued for and against the concession on the congressional floor. Following the vote, the opposition legislators walked out of the Assembly in protest of the Sandinistas’ power play.
Reactions to Sandinistas’ ratification of the law were immediate. First Lady Rosario Murillo gushed that the canal concession is “a prophecy that has finally come true,” while critics on the blogosphere lamented, “Now we are a Chinese colony, thanks to Ortega.”
Below are highlights from this morning’s debate, so that Nicaragua’s lawmakers can be judged by their own words.
“This concession will be overturned by future democratic governments.” – Liberal Congressman Pedro Joaquin Chamorro.
“This is auctioning off our national sovereignty without consulting the Nicaraguan people.” –Liberal Congressman Luis Callejas.
“Nicaragua assumes all the risk and punishment in this law, while the investor assumes none. Who would sign a contract like that?’- Liberal Congressman Luis Callejas.
“This is illegal. Nicaragua can’t legally renounce its sovereignty.” –Liberal Congressman Luis Callejas.
“This law was written in Chinese and translated into Spanish by a computer program… We are giving up one-third of our national territory.”- Liberal Congressmen Carlos Langrand.
“We are giving the canal to an unknown foreigner…They are confiscating the historic dream of all Nicaraguans.”- MRS Congressman Enrique Saenz.
“Do you think Sandino would support a pact between Ortega and a Chinaman? What would Sandino do?” –Liberal Congressman Adolfo Martinez Cole.
“This is the birth of the second William Walker, named Wang Jing”- Liberal Congressman Javier Vallejos.
“If we had counted the votes correctly after the elections, we wouldn’t even have to be discussing this law right now.”- Liberal Congressman Raul Herrera.
“This doesn’t look like a treaty, it looks like Daniel Ortega’s last will and testament to his son, only using a Chinese name.”- Liberal Congressman Raul Herrera.
“We can’t say you are selling out the country, because you are just giving it away.”- Liberal Congressman Raul Herrera.
“Who is going to pay for this canal, the shell company in Grand Cayman?…Wang Jing doesn’t even appear on the Forbes list.”- Liberal Congressman Francisco José Valdivia.
“This law should have gone to a popular referendum…it’s going to remain a dream that this Chinese citizen can bring investment here with this law; it’s not going to happen, unfortunately.” -opposition Congressman Agustín Jarquín.
“This law is born dead because it’s not being done with the consensus of the population.”- Liberal Congressman Alberto Lacayo.
“This is not just a concession to some weird private group, but a concession (that Ortega) is giving to himself. The unconstitutional President Daniel Ortega is granting this right to the businessman Daniel Ortega to manage any contracts involved in the construction of a future canal, airports, and ports and other infrastructure in our country. This is not just a concession to a Chinese man, but a concession to an undercover company run by Ortega. He is trying to ensure his family’s economic future and in doing so taking away the country’s right to build a canal—all to enrich the Ortega-Murillo clan.”- MRS Congressman Victor Hugo Tinoco.
“The problem is not the name or the fact that the investor is Chinese. It could be Juan Ton, Fu Manchu, Bruce Lee, or Jackie Chan—that’s the not the problem. Any Chinaman can come here. The problem is the contract.”- opposition Congressman Santiago Aburto.
“The opposition wants to deny Nicaragua 10-15% economic growth and the creation of 2 million jobs. Right now Nicaragua has only 620,000 jobs.”- FSLN congressman Edwin Castro.
“This is a concession, not a privatization.” – FSLN Congressman Edwin Castro.
“The opposition doesn’t want development here because they couldn’t and didn’t deliver it when they were in power.”- FSLN Congressman Edwin Castro.
“This is a day of hope for the poor people of Nicaragua.”- FSLN Congressman Edwin Castro.
“This is the most important day in the development of Nicaragua.”- FSLN Congressman Edwin Castro.
“We are stopping to just dream and starting to build a reality, honoring the legacy of Gen. Sandino.”- FSLN Congresswoman Jenny Martinez.
“The population approves of all the programs of this government.” –FSLN Congressman Odell Incer.
“This will bring hope and illusion to this country; we can’t keep waiting.”- FSLN Congressman Odell Incer.
“This opens new opportunities for a majority of Nicaraguans, not just few. An opportunity to make ourselves into the heart of regional trade. An opportunity for consensus, an opportunity to reduce poverty and unemployment.”- FSLN Congressman Carlos Emilio López.
“Did they ask the country when they privatized energy, or health or education?”- FSLN Congresswoman Josefina Roa.
“With the Sandinista Front in government, with a government of the people, we will radically transform the economic future of this country. (The opposition) didn’t do and it and they don’t want us to do, because they couldn’t. But even those who are against this project will benefit from it. We have nothing lose by trying; don’t be defeatists. Long live Nicaragua!”- FSLN Congressman Everth Cárcamo.
“The indigenous people are not opposed to development, but development has to include our communities… Although we are not opposed to this megaproject, we disapprove of this legal procedure. The Rama people have not been consulted on this, nor has the territorial government of indigenous people living in Laguna de Perlas. Those two indigenous territories lay right in the path of five of the six proposed canal routes. This project talks about expropriation of communal territories of the indigenous, and that affects the existence and rights of the indigenous people. We can’t approve of this concession without information about it, and this law can’t substitute the legally established rights of the indigenous under Law 445.”- indigenous Congressman Brooklyn Rivera, YATAMA/ Sandinista alliance.
Next: Who/what is HKND-Group, and what is their capacity to build a canal project in Nicaragua?